The Hong Kong Sevens are where ‘new players are born’, says Blitzboks boss about golden opportunity facing his youngsters
South Africa arrive in Hong Kong with a second-string side featuring five debutants, with Commonwealth Games the priority
They’ve been slated by all and sundry for putting their HSBC World Sevens Series hopes in jeopardy but for South Africa the positives of exposing their young players in the Hong Kong cauldron far outweigh the negatives.
Academy coach Marius Schoeman takes the reins this week while regular boss Neil Powell works with a separate squad ahead of the Commonwealth Games and there are five uncapped players in the Blitzboks 13-man line-up for Hong Kong.
But rather than worry about the naysayers, Schoeman can’t wait to unleash his young charges onto the hallowed Hong Kong turf where “new players are born”.
“It’s going to be exciting not just for me but for the players as well,” said Schoeman, who debuted as a player in Hong Kong in 2001 and now makes his bow as senior coach here.
“Hong Kong has always been a tournament where you get new players and new players are born. It’s where I made my debut and in that same year playing with me were players like Joe van Niekirk and Andre Pretorius, who became Springboks.
“No one knew of them and Andre Pretorius won a World Cup. It’s an opportunity, there will be some names that come out of this and become new stars. I think there will be some faces that you will see in Hong Kong for the next five or six years.
“They are always in the shadows of a Cecil Afrika or a Werner Kok or a Ruhan Nel because they are great players, but they are great youngsters and they must grab this opportunity with both hands.”
While South Africa have opted to prioritise gold in the Commonwealth Games, the World Series leaders still have high hopes of their chances of winning their first Hong Kong Sevens.
Although they are bringing a second-string side, eight players have World Series experience and six played in the last leg in Vancouver, with a couple to join Powell’s A-team in Australia next week.
Dewald Human has been named captain, while Zain Davids and Stedman Gans are the more experienced members of the squad.
“We don’t want to go in giving ourselves a target, but like all the other teams we are coming to win,” Schoeman said. “Some people will laugh and think ‘inexperienced team, what are you talking about?’ but if you don’t go to a tournament to win you are on the wrong path.
“We want to top our pool, I know it’s going to be tough playing England and Scotland but our main focus will be on ourselves and implementing our systems.
“If the guys are on form and don’t get carried away by the whole Hong Kong vibe, I reckon we can go through and hopefully get a nice draw in the quarters. From there it will take care of itself.”
The decision to go all out in an attempt to defend their Games gold medal was not one made lightly, and one Schoeman believes will have plenty of silver linings.
“We did this planning last year, we have already done our planning for the 2020 Olympics, so it wasn’t just a quick decision,” he said.
“We had to take into account a lot of variables, like our history of touring. Generally the South Africans are not good when they are away from home for three or four weeks so we had to take that into consideration.
“Yes, it is a risk but we are prepared to take that risk. Hopefully we surprise someone and I think we are going to gain a lot in terms of experience so we might reap the rewards later on.”